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The intense grazing and feedlot methods are destroying the pasture lands, the streams, the rivers, and the atmosphere. Small farmers are being ruined by what is happening. Here is the story.

Dr. Michael W. Fox summarizes the effects of food animal production in these words: "An estimated 85% of all U.S. agricultural land is used in the production of animal foods, which in turn is linked with deforestation, destruction of wildlife species, extinction of species, loss of soil productivity through mineral depletion and erosion, water pollution and depletion, overgrazing, and desertification" (M.W. Fox, Agricide: The Hidden Crisis that Affects Us All, 1986, pp. 50-51).

Here are several facts to consider:

The modern method of raising food animals harms our air quality in several ways. A third of the annual increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from the burning of the earth’s biomass (vegetation). Much of the clearing and burning of forests is done solely to make room for cattle. Tree leaves extract pollutants from the air, but they are being destroyed.

It takes roughly 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. An immense amount of energy is needed to run the tractors, fuel the spray planes, power the combines to harvest them—all for the raising of beef, pork, or chicken. Eighty percent of American grain production is used to feed meat animals. It now takes a gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of grain-fed beef in the U.S. To sustain the yearly beef requirements of an average family of four requires over 260 gallons of fossil fuel. When that fuel is burned, it releases 2.5 tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, equivalent to the amount of CO2 the average car emits in six months of normal operation. All that for one pound of grain-fed beef (Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef, pp. 224-225).

Transporting cattle to slaughter and then packaging and freezing the meats are energy-intensive procures. But fruits and vegetables do not need to be frozen and packaged before reaching your table. Energy is also needed for temperature control of the animals in the feedlots, to transport them, to feed them, carry off their wastes, and to manufacture the antibiotics continually pumped into those animals.

According to an Ohio State University study, even the least efficient plant food is nearly ten times as efficient as the most efficient animal food ("Energy Costs of Livestock Production," American Society of Agricultural Engineers, June 1975).

Energy consumption always involves unseen pollution. It also increases our dependence on foreign oil and nuclear power plants.

Most of the agrochemical poisons sprayed into the air and falling on the ground are dedicated to the production of meat. We are poisoning the land in order to raise meat animals.

The amount of waste produced on the feedlots is astounding! None of it is spread over the land, as would occur if the animal were permitted to graze. The average cow produces 25 pounds of waste per day; and 5,000 head of cattle in the feedlot produce enough waste to keep workers busy day and night, at a cost of $75,000 a year, moving it out onto the land. So, instead, it is just dumped in mountains of waste (or secretly dumped in nearby rivers; more on that later in this chapter). The manure mountain is frequently sprayed to keep down flies (Jim Mason and Peter Singer, Animal Factories, 1990, p. 116).

The fertilizers sprayed on the fields to produce the hay contain only nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—and none of the trace minerals, such as zinc or selenium normally present in healthy soil. This rapidly depletes the soil for years to come (John Robbins, Diet for a New America, 1987, p. 376).

The 1.3 billion head of cattle in the world emit an estimated 150 trillion quarts of methane gas, which is the second most significant contributor (after carbon dioxide) to the greenhouse effect. Every cow emits up to 400 quarts of methane gas daily. Chopping down trees, to make room for more cows, also contributes to methane production. Felled trees which are not burned are eaten by termites, which produce more methane gas. Scientists estimate that the methane content of the atmosphere has doubled in the past 200 years (Lynn Jacobs, Waste of the West, 1991, pp. 146, 226).

Then there is the stripping of the land and desertification that result from livestock overgrazing. They especially destroy land which does not receive a lot of rainwater. This results in increased dust in the air. Bared soil is lost to the wind. People are harmed by breathing that dust; and it also traps solar radiation, bringing about climate change. Dust storms have been linked to livestock grazing in Africa, China, Australia, the Middle East, and the western United States (Jacobs, p. 146).

We might also mention the cost of all the ambulances rushing around cities to pick up heart attack and stroke victims.

Cattle hooves widen streams, and cattle manure pollutes it. The widening streams increase in temperature by 5° to 10° F., killing certain fish and multiplying harmful organisms. Algae proliferate, water evaporates more easily, and less dissolved oxygen is available for fish who need it to survive (Jacobs, p. 85).

Livestock waste is often dumped into streams as the most efficient way to dispose of it. Feedlot wastes can be several hundred times more concentrated than raw domestic sewage (Robbins, p. 373). Nitrates, ammonia, and bacteria from that waste frequently wind up polluting rivers, streams, and well water. The sheer size of this pollution is astounding! An average feedlot with 10,000 head produces as much as half a million pounds of cow manure every day (Rifkin, Beyond Beef, 1992, p. 221). The largest feedlots, with 100,000 head, have a waste problem equal to the largest cities in America (Robbins, p. 372). Livestock waste exceeds human waste in tonnage nationwide by a factor of one hundred and thirty! ("Animal Waste Pollution in America: An Emerging National Problem," report of the Minority Staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, December 1997).

Big business is taking over U.S. farms. Family farming is almost gone in America. In 1983, there were about 1,250,000 full-time commercial family farms in our nation. Today there are only about 350,000. At this rate, the family farm will be virtually extinct within a few more years. The men with the big money will own it all.

And they are gradually ruining American rivers. Rodney Barker has written a book, And the Waters Turned to Blood, in which he tells about the horror that is occurring in an increasing number of U.S. rivers from feedlot runoff.

Dr. JoAnn Burkholder, a University of North Carolina research scientist and professor in aquatic botany became an expert on a previously unknown single-cell organism, named Pfiesteria piscicida. First by the thousands and then by the millions, fish were dying in North Carolina waters. People bathing or swimming in those rivers were becoming sick and finding it extremely difficult to recover. Burkholder proved that the cause was Pfiesteria, which emits a deadly toxin.

Many of the fish have open sores. Fishermen and vacationers, when their skin came in contact with river water, developed body sores, acute loss of memory, strange sieges of temper, and nerve seizures.

The cause is primarily waste from hog feedlots. North Carolina ranks second only to Iowa in the number of pig farms. A book could be written about what is happening in North Carolina. Rodney Barker’s And the Waters Turned to Blood is that book. State officials repeatedly ignored the problem, so as not to injure the tourist trade or the hog farmers association. Burkholder was not vindicated until the number of dead fish and human sicknesses had become very large.

Pfiesteria has since been found in waters from Delaware Bay to the Gulf of Mexico (Barker, p. 322). In Maryland, the cause was chicken manure from the chicken farms ("Another Waterway is Closed in Maryland," New York Times, September 15, 1997). It is becoming dangerous to use animal manure to fertilize your garden, if it can get into your well water (Pfiesteria must have nutrient-rich water in order to breed).

Another major problem in America is the growing need for freshwater. Each decade, this problem will get worse.

Livestock production accounts for over half the water consumed in the Northwest. Half of Arizona’s water is used for livestock. Stockmen use over half the water in California. Other state statistics could be cited. About 70% of the water used in 11 western states is used to raise animals for food (Jacobs, p. 215).

The water required to produce just ten pounds of steak equals the water consumption of the average household for a year (Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet, Rev. ed., p. 76).

The central states—from Texas to South Dakota—can tap into the underground Ogallala Aquifer. But nearly half the grain-fed cattle in America are raised by farmers dependent on the Ogallala to irrigate their crops. Since 1960, about three cubic miles of water has been drained annually from this reserve. Wells are beginning to run dry in parts of Texas, Missouri, Colorado, and Nebraska. Farms are being deserted and the soil is blowing in the wind. Based on the current usage rate, the Ogallala will be nearly empty by 2050 (Rifkin, p. 219).

Did you know that U.S. tax dollars pay for more than half the costs of irrigation projects in the U.S.? (Lappé p. 85). It averages $54 an acre, and the benefits keep going to a few, very large agribusinesses (George Wuerthner, "Public Lands Grazing: The Real Costs," Earth First, August 1, 1989). Yet, as we have already discovered, raising animals injures the land, air, and water more than other kind of rural business, other than surface strip mining (Lappé, p. 85).

Then there is the problem of ranching on public lands in the West. Public-land ranching results in extraordinary destruction of native vegetation and wildlife; it also causes widespread flooding, soil erosion, and water pollution. It costs the American treasury $1 billion or more annually, yet produces only 3% of American beef! (Jacobs, p. 566). "Ranching has wasted, and is wasting, the western United States more than any other human endeavor" (Lappé, p. 3).

The government has admitted that over 90% of public lands in the West are in bad condition (Arizona Republic, April 1, 1991). By damaging streams, grasslands, riparian (river bank) zones, and forests, livestock winds up devastating plant and animal life in the West. Pronghorn deer are disappearing, as well as the fish and birds (Jacobs, p. 117). A study of an Oregon wildlife refuge found bird counts five to seven times higher in its ungrazed areas, compared to similar areas grazed annually by cattle. Trout populations are 350% higher in ungrazed portions of Oregon rivers (ibid.).

Not even our National Wildlife Refuges are being protected. Of 109 such refuges in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, 103 are grazed (ibid.).

Livestock spread anthrax, brucellosis, encephalitis, leptospirosis, pneumonia, bluetongue, pinkeye, scabies, and rabies to wildlife and sometimes to humans.

We will conclude this chapter with a quick look at the fish in our oceans. All the world’s major fishing grounds have been stressed to their limits. Hi-tech fishing vessels, deploying fishing nets wide enough to haul in a dozen 747 jumbo jets, have depleted our oceans and pushed many species to the brink of extinction.

Two of the world’s most productive fishing areas, Canada’s Grand Banks and New England’s Georges Bank, are considered commercially extinct. Add to our suicidal overfishing the fact that one-third of the world’s catch of fish is turned into fish meal and fed to livestock ("The World’s Imperiled Fish," Scientific American, November 1995).